Israeli Court Upholds Sharon's Gaza Pullout Plan

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Israel's highest court has rejected a bid by Jewish settlers to halt Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw settlements from the Gaza Strip in August. The court challenge was the last legal obstacle to the pullout, which will affect 1,700 families.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Israel's highest court ruled today in favor of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to close all settlements in the Gaza Strip. The court rejected a dozen separate appeals by the settlers and ruled that the withdrawal plan is constitutional. That ruling is the last legal obstacle to this summer's pullout as Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

By a vote of 10:1, the Supreme Court ruled the pullout can go ahead as planned and it does not violate the settlers' rights. The justices also made only minor changes to the law that determines how much compensation each of the 1,700 families of settlers in Gaza and several hundred in the West Bank will receive when they are forced to leave their homes. The court also ruled that the West Bank and Gaza are lands seized during warfare and are not part of Israel.

The court ruling was carefully watched in Israel. Josef Alfer(ph), an Israeli analyst and co-editor of an Israeli-Palestinian Web site, says the court ruling paves the way for the pullback to take place in mid-August.

Mr. JOSEF ALFER (Analyst): At the legal level, this was probably the last significant attempt by opponents of this engagement to derail the process via the courts. That's not to say we're not going to see more attempts because one of the strategies adopted by the opponents is to try to overwhelm the courts with a variety of different appeals.

GRADSTEIN: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already overcome the last legislative hurdles to the pullback. Yoram Sheftel, an attorney for the settlers, told Israel Radio that the ruling was not a surprise and the Supreme Court has a history of ruling against Jewish settlers. Other settler leaders say they will continue to resist the planned withdrawal.

The court ruling comes as a poll finds support for the Gaza pullback plan at a new low of 50 percent as opposed to 40 percent against it. Political analyst Alfer says the settlers' public relations campaign against the withdrawal appears to be gaining strength, and the settler says they have tens of thousands of Israelis who will flock to Gaza to physically prevent the withdrawal. Thousands of settlers have already blocked major highways in Israel and dozens were arrested. Alfer explains what's likely to take place.

Mr. ALFER: There are still many obstacles in the path of disengagement. The opponents will obviously see the court decision as a setback, but on the other hand, they can look at some other areas and conclude that here and there their efforts may be beginning to bear fruit. And I'm absolutely certain that this court decision will not put a stop to their efforts to derail the disengagement process. We still have a very rough road ahead.

GRADSTEIN: Sharon yesterday repeated that he intends to go ahead with the pullback and urged the settlers to accept the decision. He also rejected media reports that the government has not done enough to prepare for the settlers who will be forced to leave their homes. Sharon said every family will have temporary housing and every child will have a place to go to school next year. Only about 200 families have already agreed to accept compensation.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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